Stories tagged psychology


Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?
Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?Courtesy Majail0711
Hey, it's Halloween. Do you have a seance to go to tonight after you finish your trick and treating?

And what's a good seance without a Ouija board? You know it's the quickest way to connect with the dead and find out those mysterious secrets that aren't accessible any other way.

It's been quite a while since I last touched a Ouija board. But I do remember being amazed how that little pad just skimmed across the board to give us answers to our questions. It's fun and mystical. And (SPOILER ALERT) it's all based on science.

The current issue of Smithsonian delves into the history and science behind the board. You can get all the details right here. Since the board's beginnings, the creators had insights into the ideometer effect. That's a fancy term for the automatic muscular movements that take place in our bodies without our conscious will or volition. It's like what happens to us when we cry during the sad part of a movie or flick away an annoying bug pestering us. People using a Ouija board are subtly moving the pointer around the board without realizing they are doing so.

Research conducted a couple years ago quantified what was happening. People were asked random fact-based questions that were challenging. Just hearing the questions and answering without a Ouija board, participants got about 50 percent correct, which was what researchers expected. But when participants were asked similar questions while seated at the Ouija board, that correct response rate jumped up to 65 percent.

The researchers account of the difference by people tapping into their non-conscious knowledge and using the ideometer effect to guide the Ouija board pointer across the board. And people actually do better answering questions on topics that they don't think they know the answer to than topics that they do.

So, if you do happen to find yourself sitting around a Ouija board tonight, be careful what you ask it. You might just get the answer to something you've been burying away in your mind for a long time!!!

Happy Halloween and feel free to share your observations here with other Buzz readers on the science of Ouija boards.

Compared to another wreck around the same time, passengers on the Titanic were much more calm and composed. According to economist David Savage, that's because the Titanic sank so slowly that social order had time to kick in and dictate people's behavior.


Gaze into the crystal ball to see what your future holds...: That's right, it holds a whole bunch of JGordon. Deal with it.
Gaze into the crystal ball to see what your future holds...: That's right, it holds a whole bunch of JGordon. Deal with it.Courtesy mararie

So, Buzzketeers, you’ve been keeping something from me.

I thought we had something. I thought that we had a solid relationship built on trust, like… like a really nice but not fancy bungalow built on bedrock that doesn’t lie to you, or withhold information. Yeah, sure, I sometimes mislead you, or pass on scientifically suspect material, but that’s different. That’s for my own entertainment.

And don’t act like you don’t know what I’m going to say. That’s the whole thing, isn’t it?

Yeah, I heard. I heard that y’all can predict the future. And you didn’t tell me. Me, JGordon.

When were you going to mention that the secret’s out, and that a Cornell University scientist had demonstrated a small but statistically significant propensity for people (you) to predict the future? Were you going to wait until after the holidays, so as not to spoil the “surprise” of my gifts to you? Whatever. I got you all cashmere scarves. I thought you’d really like them. Surprise.

I hear that you were shown a list of words, and were able to recall mostly words from the list that would later be randomly selected by a computer. That’s super neat. Thanks for telling me about it.

I hear, too, that you were able to correctly able to predict 53 percent of the time when a curtained computer screen would have a sexy image on it. Cool. Maybe if you spent less time looking at sexy pictures, our relationship wouldn’t be going the way it clearly is.

3% above a 50-50 chance may not seem like much, but we both know it’s significant. Nearly as significant as the fact that you never mentioned it to me.

Do you know how that feels? I’ll show you how it feels:

1: Tomorrow, most of you American Buzzketeers will eat turkey.

2: Tomorrow, one of you will be eaten by a turkey, or turkeys.

3: Prince Philip will say something of questionable taste at his grandson’s wedding, probably to a woman or a foreign dignitary.

4. Your dad has a secret family in another state.

How do you like them apples? It’s not very fun, is it?

In any case, while the study stood up to the careful peer review of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it’s probably all statistical wheeling and dealing, and I’d like to think that we can get over this.

I trust you’d tell me if you knew we wouldn’t.


Why does this baby appear so well-adjusted?: Difficult to say.
Why does this baby appear so well-adjusted?: Difficult to say.Courtesy Manda
A recently published, 25-year study suggests that children raised by two lesbian parents may actually be behaviorally and psychologically better adjusted than their peers.

The study tracked mothers from pregnancy or insemination, interviewing them and their children multiple times over their development, until the kids were 17 years old. The kids were asked questions focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships, and academic progress. The research found that despite occasionally being stigmatized for their parents’ sexuality, the kids tended to rate higher than the average in “social, academic, and totally competence,” and displayed less problem behavior (rule-breaking, aggression, etc.).

The researchers behind the study propose that the difference may have to do with the fact that lesbian couples often choose to become pregnant later than most people, and, being older, are more mature and better prepared for parenting. Growing up in households with “less power assertion, and more parental involvement” is tied to healthier development, and more mature parents may fit this model better.

The research was funded by a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, which some people consider to be evidence against its validity. Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women for America, “a group that supports biblical values,” says that the source of the funding “proves the prejudice and the bias of the study.”

Wendy Wright is, of course, wrong. There may or may not be aspects of the study that are biased or invalid, but the source of the funding doesn’t prove that at all. She’s seeing a causal relationship where there is none. Consider the following: JGordon buys a plum. Does this prove that JGordon will be eating a plum? Nope. Plums are frequently acquired for the purpose of being eaten, but there’s nothing about my getting a plum that necessarily means I’m going to eat it. Perhaps I will give it away. Or I might just be adding it to my plum collection.

The mystery of what JGordon does with all his plums, however, has far fewer social implications than a study on what makes for good parenting. So it’s important that we consider what actually “proves” what here.

Mrs. Wright also claims that the outcomes of the study “defy common sense and reality.” Common sense, though, may not be the best standard for judging scientific results. And, as for “reality,” how exactly do we figure that out? Careful observation, I suppose.

The study may still need more scrutiny, but it’s an interesting piece of potential evidence in the discussion of what constitutes a good environment for raising kids.

What do y’all think?

Scientists at Columbia University have demonstrated that babies are capable of learning new things while they sleep, and that their frontal cortices are active during the process (crazy picture of the device used here). Evidence of this sort of thing has been found before, but without measuring brain activity.

As someone who's a big fan of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, this news is at once awesome and terrifying.


Understandable: Somebody did just say "shinbone," after all.
Understandable: Somebody did just say "shinbone," after all.Courtesy *punkinator
Check it out, crybabies: words can hurt. Like, literally.

Not all words hurt, of course. Like, when we make fun of the way you run, or the way you say “caravan,” or the way you let your parakeets perch on your lip and eat out of your mouth… well, I’m sorry that you’re so sensitive about all of that, but the tears are all your fault. Buck up, little cowboy.

But when we say things like, “when the jagged chunk of metal lacerated through the skin and severed the tendon, the resulting sensation was excruciating,” that really does hurt. Or, at the very least, it causes the pain of your lacerated skin and severed tendons to be that much more excruciating.

It turns out that pain-related words or phrases stimulate an area of the brain known as the “pain matrix,” even when there is nothing else causing physical pain in the body. If real pain is on the way (like after you hear, “this will only hurt for a second”), the pain will be intensified, because your brain is ready for it in a bad way.

Researchers think that the response may be an evolved characteristic that reinforces our aversion to things that can hurt us; when you hear a phrase like “this may pinch a little,” an intense pain memory is activated, removing any doubt from your mind that that’s something you should avoid.

Anyway, I thought I’d leave you with a few tried-and-true pain matrix stimulators:
Compound fracture
Ruptured eardrum


Athletes like those who won medals at the recent Winter Olympics train intensely for their sport. When most of us think of training, we probably think only of physical exercise, but winning athletes also need to master the mental challenges of competition, which can be especially intense during the Olympic games. After all, the world is watching and nothing short of national pride is on the line.

Listen to the short sound pieces in this New York Times interactive graphic and you'll realize that the distance between winners and losers at the Olympic games is often less than an instant. Being mentally focused and prepared can make all the difference. To help them train, many athletes (including all of the US team) work with Sports Psychologists, mental health experts who help them to prepare for the distraction of crowds and the pressure of the moment. What does mental training involve? Athletes complete exercises in visualization, breathing, body control, and energy management to help them focus so they don't choke under pressure.

What about the mental implications of winning and losing? Psychologists (and economists!) who are interested in knowing more about what makes people happy have used the Olympic games as a kind of laboratory - looking at athletes who take first place and comparing them to those who don't.

As you might guess, winning a Gold medal feels pretty good, and athletes who take first seem to be pretty happy about it. But scientists found an unexpected result in their study on winning, losing, and happiness when they compared silver and bronze medalists - it seems that third place finishers are, on average, happier than those who come in second. Researchers learned this by watching interviews with Olympic athletes at the 1992 summer games and recording words and phrases that they used to describe how they were feeling. They also watched recordings of the facial expressions of the athletes on the podium, and concluded that while most Bronze medalists looked giddy, Silver medalists often seemed disappointed.

Why would you be happier with a third place title than second? Researchers point to a phenomenon called "counterfactual thinking" - in short, it means those in second place are plagued by thoughts of "what might have been" while bronze medalists are relieved that they placed at all. Second place finishers are thinking of the one tiny mistake that cost them first place, while third place finishers are relieved that they didn't make one mistake too many.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to Olympic athletes. We all compete in one sense or another, and have all probably dealt with moments of winning and losing, which is probably part of why we enjoy watching sports games.

Click here for more Buzz stories on science and the Winter Olympics.

We just said bon voyage to the Titanic exhibit here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, but I came across this very interesting article about male behavior patterns when ships are sinking. Researchers have analyzed the behaviors of men on board Titanic (which sank in about three hours) and men on board Lusitania (which sank in 18 minutes). Which ship saw more "gentlemanly" behavior? Think about it and then read the results of the research findings right here.


Stay sober, stay stimulated: Stay off sensory deprivation! Oh... wait... that wasn't the point of the study?
Stay sober, stay stimulated: Stay off sensory deprivation! Oh... wait... that wasn't the point of the study?Courtesy mikebaird
Stay in school, little dudes. That’s important. Also, stay off drugs. That’s also important.

Why? Because school embiggens your brain. And because drugs interfere with the brain embiggening process. Your uppers, your downers, your sliders, your narcotics, your kool-aid/cough syrup concoctions, your hallucinogens… they’re all dangerous, they will all keep you from focusing your brainwaves and chi and stuff.

But it’s easy avoiding those effects, right? The secret is to just not do drugs, right?

Wrong! Just 15 minutes of sensory deprivation can trigger hallucination! That’s just you and your brain, alone together in a totally quiet and dark room, making each other craaaaazy!

200 participants were given a questionnaire to determine how prone each person was to hallucinations. 9 of the highest scorers (that is, they had a high propensity for hallucination) and 10 of the lowest scorers (the least likely to hallucinate) were then (after volunteering) placed individually into an anechoic chamber. The anechoic chamber is build to muffle as much external sound as possible, and there’s no light inside, so once the participants were shut inside, they were in complete darkness and silence for the 15-minute duration of the test.

The study found:

“Of the nine volunteers who had high scores on the first questionnaire, almost all reported experiencing something "very special or important" while inside the chamber. Six saw objects that were not there, five had hallucinations of faces, four reported a heightened sense of smell, and two felt there was an evil presence in the chamber with them.”

Even the participants who scored low on the first test experienced hallucinations and delusions, although not as heavily as the first group.

The research seems to support the idea that hallucinations (or some hallucinations) are caused by the brain misidentifying its own thoughts and activity as something that comes from outside the body. So… you bring your crazy with you into the sensory deprivation chamber, I guess.

You hear that kids? If you’re not careful, and, like, accidentally fall into a sensory depravation chamber, your straightedge lifestyle will suddenly count for nothing! And you won’t get into your favorite ivy-league college, you little junky, you. So, whatever you do, stay stimulated! And if you ever do get trapped in an anechoic chamber, try to create your own sensory experiences until help arrives. I can't recommend whistling, because you’ll need your mouth for the arm-licking that I do recommend. But I think you should be able to hum and lick your arm at the same time, so do that. And, if you’re able, fart like crazy. With all this stimuli, you should be able to maintain some level of sobriety until a fireman axes the box open to find you sanely humming, licking your arm, and farting.

The more you know. You know?


Feed me! Love me! Return my lost wallet!: Wallets containing pictures of babies were more likely to be returned.
Feed me! Love me! Return my lost wallet!: Wallets containing pictures of babies were more likely to be returned.Courtesy Alex Motrenko

They inspire people to return missing wallets. Scientists in Scotland deliberately placed wallets on the streets in Edinburgh to to see how many would be returned. Most of the wallets contained a photo—a baby, a puppy, a family portrait, or a photo of an elderly couple. Some wallets had no photos, but a charity receipt. And still others had nothing beyond name and address. None of the wallets contained any money.

In all, 42& of the wallets were returned. Those with baby pictures came back most often, 88% of the time. The puppy dog picture triggered an honest response in 53% of the finders; the family photo 48%; and the elderly couple photo only 28%. (I take this as evidence that Scots don't like old people.) Bringing up the rear were the wallets with the charity receipt (20%) and the ones with nothing special at all (15%).

Professor Richard Wiseman, the psychologist who ran the experiment, said the results demonstrate that humans are hard-wired with an instinct for compassion and want to protect vulnerable infants. This no doubt inspires us to protect future generations, but it's a raw deal if you ain't cute.